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Home :: Archive :: 2008 :: April ::
Recent Digital Collections of Shakespeare's Quartos
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0195  Tuesday, 1 April 2008

From: 		Hardy M. Cook <
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Date: 		Wednesday, April 2, 2008
Subject: 	Recent Digital Collections of Shakespeare's Quartos (and 
Folios) Online

Dear SHAKSPEReans,

According to a Reuters report a few weeks ago and to a brief piece in an 
email distributed by the Folger Library that I received, the British 
Library and the Folger Library are working together to make available 
online a free digital collection of quarto (and folio?) editions of 
Shakespeare's plays from their collections. The cost for scanning and 
uploading is being funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities 
and the UK's Joint Information Systems Committee and is "expected to 
take up to a year." After completion, visitors will be able compare 
quartos from both collections side-by-side. This project joins and 
extends the capabilities of several already existing projects.

For example, the British Library's web site provides access to many of 
its "treasures" in high quality digital images: 
<http://www.bl.uk/treasures/treasuresinfull.html>. Currently, visitors 
can preview sample pages from the BL's manuscript of Mallory's _Le Morte 
Darthur_ and will soon be able to examine the entire Winchester 
manuscript online. The first and the second edition of Caxton's 
_Canterbury Tales_, two copies of the Gutenberg Bible, a copy of the 
_Magna Carta_, and 253 digitized Renaissance festival books from the 
British Library's collection are also now available. Of greatest 
interest to Shakespeareans, however, are the 93 copies of 21 quartos of 
Shakespeare's plays that can be examined side-by-side in high quality 
digital images on the Internet: 
<http://molcat1.bl.uk/treasures/shakespeare/search.asp>.

To illustrate the scholarly usefulness of having Internet accessibility 
to these early printings of Shakespeare, let me relate a story. A few 
years back, while I was working on my note, "Unnoticed Variant Reading 
in Q1 _Lucrece_, 1594," Eric Rasmussen asked me, if I would check some 
variants in the Folger Library's seven copies of _Two Noble Kinsmen_ for 
the edition that he and G. R. Proudfoot were preparing for the Malone 
Society. I agreed since I live in the Washington, D.C., area and was 
then spending a lot of time at the Folger Library. I was rewarded with 
an acknowledgement in a note at the bottom of page viii. However, if the 
BL/Folger Library project had been operational, I probably would not 
have been asked (unless there were an issue with bleed through or a 
similar problem that would require examination of the actual page with a 
high powered magnifier). Eric Rasmussen (or one of his graduate 
students) could have checked the variant readings online without the 
need to have a researcher physically present at the Folger Library.

Those of us who work with so-called "rare" materials know of the 
time-consuming nature of the procedures to get an original quarto on 
one's desk. After getting permission to use the research library and 
usually a second permission to certify one's familiarity and competence 
with handling "rare books and manuscripts," the researcher then has to 
locate the information in a card catalogue (one that uses printed cards 
containing the information describing the contents of the institution's 
collection or that is an electronic catalogue - such as Hamnet at the 
Folger Library, <http://shakespeare.folger.edu/>). The researcher next 
fills out a form requesting the material. Sometimes, yet another 
librarian must grant yet another permission to use the material before 
the request is placed and someone goes to retrieve the material from a 
vault (in the Folger Library that vault is several stories underground) 
or another secure storage facility. At the British Library, it is 
advisable to place orders for "rare" materials days ahead of time, since 
BL "rare" books are normally stored at facilities miles away. In any 
case and in the best of circumstances, the time for getting a 
Shakespearean quarto for examination may take hours from the time one 
requests to the time one receives the "rare book." Having access to the 
same material over the Internet has obvious advantages. In fact, now 
that so many "rare" materials are digitalized, many research libraries 
no long permit, except in the most unusual of circumstances, a 
researcher to handle Shakespearean quartos and folios.

At the forefront of digitalizing rare books and manuscripts is the 
Octavo company. Among it titles, Octavo sells electronic editions of 
Shakespeare's _Sonnets_ (British Library), _The First Folio_ (Folger 
Shakespeare Library), and the 1640 Benson edition of _The Poems_ 
(Warnock Library). But these three editions are only the start. I 
learned a few months ago from Terry Gray ("Mr. William Shakespeare and 
the Internet") about "The Rare Book Room" - 
<http://www.rarebookroom.org/>. The home page to this site reads as 
follows: "The 'Rare Book Room' site has been constructed as an 
educational site intended to allow the visitor to examine and read some 
of the great books of the world. / Over the last ten years, a company 
called "Octavo" embarked on digitally photographing some of the world's 
great books from some of the greatest libraries. These books were 
photographed at very high resolution (in some cases at over 200 
megabytes per page). / This site contains all of the books (about 400) 
that have been digitized to date. These range over a wide variety of 
topics and rarity. The books are presented so that the viewer can 
examine all the pages in medium to medium-high resolution."

The site includes books by Galileo, Newton, Copernicus, Kepler, 
Einstein, Darwin, and others. But for our purposes, "The Rare Book Room" 
collection's Shakespeare section is stunning: it "contains most of the 
Shakespeare Quartos from the British Library, the Bodleian Library, the 
University of Edinburgh Library, and the National Library of Scotland. 
It also contains a First Folio from the Folger Shakespeare Library as 
well as the Folger Library's unique copy of Q1 _Titus Andronicus_, its 
copy of Edmund Spenser's _The Shepheardes Calender_ (1579), and the 
Lambarde manuscript of _The Womans Prize_ (Subtitled _the Tamer Tamed_, 
John Fletcher's Jacobean answer to _The Taming of the Shrew_ in which 
Petruchio, the tamer, is tamed). As far as the quartos of the plays go, 
"The Rare Book Room" collection with the addition of the Folger 
Library's quartos, with which I began this piece, will be about as much 
as the textual scholar or teacher could ask for. Terry Gray in a private 
correspondence to me wrote, "It seems to me the availability of these 
materials should provoke a revolution in textual studies now that a much 
wider community of students have access to the primary documents."

However, as one who has been working with Shakespeare's poems, I confess 
to being disappointed. I assume that the Folger Library will be added to 
the existing collection, so let me be clear that my remarks are 
addressed to the selections that are NOW available. The Bodleian Library 
holds the unique copy of Q1 _Venus and Adonis_ (1593); however, the only 
copy of the narrative poem to be found in "The Rare Book Room" is a 1596 
(O2). _Lucrece_ (Q1, 1594) is another story. There are eleven extant 
copies of Q1: two are in private hands; of the remaining 9 copies, 3 
copies are at the Folger Library (one is imperfect) and 2 are at the 
British Library and 2 are at the Bodleian. Unfortunately, only Q1 Malone 
34 is available in "The Rare Book Room." There are two quarto versions 
of the _Sonnets_ in this collection: one from the Bodleian (Malone 34) 
and one from the British Library (Greville 11181). Rollins reported the 
existence of 13 extant versions although one was in private hands (4 
Aspley imprints, 7 Wright, 2 without title pages). I would have like to 
seen, at least, one Wright imprint of those available: Bodleian (Malone 
886) or BL (C.21.c.44). I hope that when the Folger quartos are 
accessible that a Wright imprint will be added.

Among all these riches, I have yet one more site of interest to textual 
scholars. It is a work in progress but nevertheless a work that deserves 
to be mentioned and known: Terry Gray's "Shakespeare's Editors" from his 
"Mr. William Shakespeare and the Internet": 
<http://shakespeare.palomar.edu/Editors/>. Gray explains to me that he 
had hoped to put together brief and useful pages but that the project 
took on a life of its own. On these pages, Gray provides succinct 
discussions of the editors of Shakespeare's texts from Heminges and 
Condell and the seventeenth century adaptations, to the great eighteen 
century editors (Rowe, Pope, Theobald, Hanmer, Warburton, Johnson, 
Capell, Steevens, Reed, and Malone), through the nineteenth century 
(with the Cambridge/Globe Shakespeare) up to Sidney Lee and beyond. In 
addition to the discussions of the editors and their editions, Terry, 
using Google Books, began including links to facsimiles of the various 
editions, that way madness lay. The result is another wonderful 
contribution to textual resources available on the Internet. Once again, 
the Shakespeare's Editors project is a work in progress. This year Terry 
has been concentrating on the blog component of his "Mr. William 
Shakespeare and the Internet" site: <http://mrshakespeare.typepad.com>. 
If readers of SHAKSPER were not aware of "Mr. William Shakespeare and 
the Internet: the blog," I encourage you to examine it and subscribe as 
I have. April 18th will be the first anniversary of this valuable blog 
and join me in congratulating Terry on yet another significant 
achievement in Shakespeare studies. Returning for a moment to 
"Shakespeare's Editors," Terry has relied heavily upon Google Books to 
find facsimile editions. He has had problems locating a number of 
multivolume editions and welcomes emails from anyone who comes across a 
link that he had not found as of yet. Finally, Terry wanted me to note 
that the Works page will soon be split out by play (and work, for the 
non-dramatic poetry), with an overview, sources, date, synopsis, 
available editions, criticism, and so on as his time permits.

My apologies for the length of this post, but I have an abiding interest 
in matters textual and am excited about the newly available resources.

Best wishes,
Hardy

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